This book is a lot of fun, especially if you know the film well as it contains the forty five page first draft, which was used for pitching for funds to make the film, along with the much longer final draft. The original version actually bears little relation to what was actually filmed and even in the final versions there are a lot of sections crossed out with pen amendments alongside so it was clearly a work in progress even whist being filmed. Alongside these two scripts are sketches of possible titles and posters, lots of stills from the film, a statement of accounts as to how much the film cost to make, a total of £229,575 for those of you who are interested and a letter from the producer to Michael Palin.
I feel this tells anyone who hasn’t seen the film quite a lot about it and it is very funny for those of us who have seen the film numerous times and can quote large sections.
It’s the ephemera and the pen amendments that for me make the book so interesting you can see the Python team improving the work as things are going on and they spot opportunities to tighten the humour, such as the section below. This is part of the fight between the three headed knight and Sir Robin which in the original final draft takes 3½ pages of typescript but is replaced with 1½ pages of handwritten alterations which got rid of a lot of the bickering between the heads and speeded up the arrival of the punchline “He’s buggered off” which isn’t even on this page of the script.
On his way to this fight, which as alluded to above Sir Robin ran away from, his minstrels had been singing songs of his bravery but written in such a way as to terrify the knight, which can be seen below. I have included this double page spread to give some idea as to how the book is formatted. On the left, which would have been blank in the original script are all sorts of interesting items such as the Daily Continuity Report seen here, but it could be snapshots from the set, notes on possible improvements, sketches by Terry Gilliam etc. In short anything at all that the editors of the book and Derek Birdsell, the designer, thought would be fun to include. It makes a wonderful mish mash of ideas about how the film is, or should, be progressing and adds a huge amout to what could have been a simple reproduction of the script.
I just had to include one of my favourite sections from the first part of the film where Arthur and his knights have arrived at the French castle, not riding horses but banging coconut shells together in the classic sound effect method to simulate horses hooves. This then leads to a side discussion as to where they had got the shells which comically keeps interrupting the main flow of the text. It is particularly fun as the swallow has become so iconic when attached to this section of the script to see that they originally intended a whole selection of different birds including a gannet, plover or a merlin which would have been a funny preshadowing of later in the book when they do encounter a parody of Merlin in the form of Tim the Enchanter.
The film ends on the shore of a lake where the knights are preparing to embark on their last great adventure but by this time the budget had largely run out and the Python’s decided to simply end the film there with a modern day police raid which stops filming. A truly surreal end to the film in a truly Monty Python way.
The rear cover has lots of suggested advertising slogans all in the form of obviously fake quotes including the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, her predecessor Edward Heath, and Richard Nixon who had resigned the American presidency following the Watergate scandal just four days after Mark Forstater’s letter the Michael Palin reproduced above. As can be seen I have the first edition of the book published by Eyre Metheun in 1977. Later editions drop the cut out folder format of the cover for a more ‘normal’ binding.